The Global Energy Transition in a Fossil World

The need for a global transition to a low-carbon energy sector is contested by few, but opinions on what this means in practice and on how to get there vary widely. This course will focus on the societal side of energy transition and the dilemmas that still need to be solved for effective change.

Session 14 July to 18 July 2020
Course levelBachelor/Master, open to PhD staff and professionals
Co-ordinating lecturers                
Dr. Stephan Slingerland
Other lecturersProf. Philipp Pattberg and Dr. Julia Blasch
Forms of tuitionLectures, excursions, discussions, group work, games
Forms of assessmentShort essay (1500 words)
Credits3 ECTS
Contact hours45 hours
Tuition fee€1150, read more about what's included
Accommodation and social programme
How to apply
Find our application form here
Bachelor’s students, Master’s students and energy professionals with an interest in energy transition and sustainability, societal transformation and governance. If you have doubts about your eligibility for the course, please let us know. Our courses are multi-disciplinary and therefore are open to students and professional with a wide variety of backgrounds, from the social to the natural sciences.
Global carbon emissions have decreased by nowhere near the margins needed to meet the targets set in the Paris Climate Agreement. In this arena of opposing energy interests vying for prominence, there are still many unresolved questions and dilemmas regarding the future of the energy transition. For example, if carbon markets and technical innovation are promoted by many as textbook solutions, why is worldwide implementation lagging so far behind? If carbon capture and storage are being promoted as a solution for using fossil fuels for long as necessary, how can we prevent a continued fossil fuel lock-in? And if it is correct that developing countries are set to reach similar welfare levels to first-world countries in the years to come, how can the corresponding significant rise in global energy demand be met sustainably?

This course will give you a broad overview of global energy transition needs, the key societal dilemmas and possible solutions. It will challenge you to discover your own preferred solutions – as well as their main pros and cons. The course will introduce you to the leading theories, concepts, proposed solutions and current governance efforts in the energy transition. As the Netherlands is the first country to make a conscious decision to leave part of its remaining gas reserves under the ground, national and local solutions will be studied in addition to global solutions. Students will learn more about these solutions through excursions and discussions with experts.

The course is taught by staff from the Department for Environmental Policy Analysis (EPA), part of VU Amsterdam’s world-renowned Institute for Environmental Studies. In 2014, EPA was rated the best Dutch research group in environmental economics, sociology and policy.
At the end of this course you will:
•  understand the main concepts and theories in energy transition and be able to put them into the wider context of global sustainable development;
•  know what has been achieved on the road to energy transition so far;
•  have gained an overview of the greatest challenges and proposed solutions for the future of the energy transition;
•  have a clear insight into your own preferred solutions for the energy transition and the main pros and cons of these solutions.

The course will include various excursions to be announced before the start of the course. Most likely, we will:
•  explore practical bottom-up energy transition solutions in Amsterdam;
•  learn about the national energy transition in the global context at the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate;
•  take part in a debate on the energy transition during a visit to a Dutch energy company.


Dr Stephan Slingerland studied environmental and natural sciences at the universities of Leiden, Cambridge and Amsterdam. During his career he has advised clients such as the European Commission, the European  Parliament, the European Environment Agency, OECD, United Nations, IRENA, various Dutch government ministries and Tata Steel on solutions for energy transition and sustainability. He is currently an associate and guest researcher at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Trinomics consultancy and the Clingendael Institute for international relations.

Trond, Norway

"I had a great learning experience during this course. It was a perfect add-on to my 10-years old MBA, and I gained a lot of new insight about the global energy situation and the transition to a clean electrification. It was a surprisingly positive aspect with the course that the participants were from different countries from all over the world, with different academic and professional backgrounds. Inspiring lecturers - highly recommended course for gaining new insight in the energy world and also for getting to know more great people."

Raoul, Austria

“Coming from a science background, the course gave me an essential insight into the political, economic and psychological aspects of the energy transition, both through lessons from a wide variety of experts in the field, and from lively debates with my fellow classmates. I could not recommend this summer course more!”

Huanyu, China

“The knowledge which I got is much more than what I expected before I came. Technology, Economics, and Politics, all of them are covered in just two weeks program - unbelievable but true. This summer school course I do recommend not only just because of amazing excursions but also the international and diversity class. In the summer of 2019, there are totally 13 students but from 12 different countries from 19 to 73 years old in my class. We shared our opinions from different experiences and perspectives in almost every courses.”

Roberto, Brazil

‘’Revealing strong student-centred teaching trend and displaying an excellent atmosphere for cultural and international exchange, 'VU University Amsterdam' is high-quality. It was chosen last year as the best in Amsterdam by students and was awarded the 2016 International Student Excellent Satisfaction Award. Professors are nice, very helpful and patient. I would recommend attending the Summer School.’’

 Ana, Portugal

“I found the course extremely engaging and inspiring. It was remarkably well structured, covering the most pressing topics, challenges and dilemmas, giving voice to different and prominent actors in Energy Transitions, and promoting a critical analysis through exciting discussions so that we could get a clear insight of our preferred path towards ET. The excursions were an important plus, where we could see the reality of what was learned and discussed in the classroom.”

Andrea, Mexico

“During the curse I learned how to address the challenges of the energy transition from a geopolitical, economical, and technical view. It made me realize that this transition is not only about big actors such as corporations or governments, but also about neighbours creating solar panel cooperatives and NGOs making lawsuits. I recommend this course not only for the content itself, but also for all the things you can learn from the different nationalities present in the classroom.”

Linda, Finland

“The course was information-packed and inspirational with many top notch guest speakers and different angles to energy transition. After the course I feel I have a better understanding of the different players in the energy sector, energy policy as well as the scale and magnitude of change needed to meet the climate targets. All of this is vital for a journalist today.”

Do you want to make the most out of your summer? You can combine this course with the following course in session 2:

Feeding the Billions: Challenges and Innovation in Food and Water Security